By Tom Curry, National Affairs Writer, NBC News
Former Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano flatly rejected the idea of clemency for Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor whom the Obama administration has charged with theft of government property and unauthorized disclosure of defense secrets.
Appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press, Napolitano said “Snowden has exacted quite a bit of damage and did it in a way that violated the law. I think he’s committed crimes and I think that the damage we'll see now and we'll see it for years to come.”
She added “from where I sit today, I would not put clemency on the table at all…..I would rule it out. He has, by individual fiat, leaked very extensive information.”
She said that when she served as Homeland Security secretary, President Barack Obama was “very clear with me” that “there needed to be discussion and open dialogue about the balance between privacy and our privacy values then and security. And remember, these are both important values. There is a right balance to be struck here.”
But Snowden, she said, “just decided to go off on his own. And he did exact quite a bit of damage in my judgment.”
Snowden, whose revelations about NSA surveillance have rocked U.S. intelligence agencies, is now in Russia where he sought refuge last summer.
On New Year’s Day a New York Times editorial called for clemency or a lenient plea bargain for Snowden, citing what it called “the enormous value of the information he has revealed, and the abuses he has exposed.” The editorial said his leaks were “clearly justified.”
Appearing on ABC’s This Week, Sen. Charles Schumer, D - N.Y. also said he opposed the idea of clemency.
“Snowden says that he is in the grand tradition of civil disobedience in this country. It is a grand tradition,” Schumer said. “Part of that tradition is you pay the consequences. If you break the law because your conscience says you have to, you stand trial… What Snowden ought to do is come back and stand trial and face the consequences, and he'll have his ample opportunity to say why he did what he did....”
Taking a different view was Sen. Rand Paul, R- Ky., who said more lenient treatment -- "some penalty of a few years in prison" -- might be suitable for Snowden if he decides to return to the United States from Russia.
Russia is also in the news as the site of the Winter Olympics. Obama has appointed Napolitano, who is now president of the University of California, to lead the U.S. delegation to the Olympic Games which begin on Feb. 7.
She said Sunday that it is worth asking whether adequate measures have been taken to prevent a terrorist incident at the Sochi games. The preparations for the Olympics have been rattled by two suicide bomb attacks last week in the Russian city of Volgograd which killed at least 34 people.
Alluding to the terrorist attacks at the 1972 Olympics in Munich which killed 11 Israeli athletes, Napolitano said “security has always been an issue with the games. And probably going back at least to Munich. And so the questions are the logical ones, have appropriate preparations been made? Do we have good liaison between the United States and the International Olympic Committee and with the host nation and the like? And then just making sure that everyone who's attending the games knows to be alert, attentive to their surroundings…..”
As members of the U.S. delegation to the Olympic Games, Obama named tennis player Billie Jean King and other gay and lesbian athletes, in what some observers saw as a protest against the law signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin last summer which bans “propaganda of homosexuality to minors.”
Asked about the membership of the U.S. delegation, Napolitano said, “What we would like to do is demonstrate that the United States is a very free and open and tolerant society.”
She added, “There have always been politics, at least in my memory, there have always been some politics surrounding the games, particularly in the weeks and the immediate lead-up. Once the athletes start going down the runs and doing the skating and the first women's team member to be ski jumping, the attention will turn” to the sports competition and away from politics.